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What's In A Flag?: If Mississippi decides to change its state flag, the new design may come from one of its half-million schoolchildren.

High school students across the state are being asked to write essays on why the state should adopt a new flag—one without Confederate symbols—or why the current one should be kept. They are also being asked for advice on a new flag's design, in case the state goes that route.

In 1993, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit challenging the current flag, which includes a small version of the Confederate battle flag. To the association, the symbol of an army that fought on the side of slavery is offensive. To some state residents, though, it commemorates the South's struggle for independence.

The debate is playing out in a state that clings to its heritage even more tightly than South Carolina, where the battle flag atop the Capitol drew protests until it was moved to a nearby monument.

Former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter, who held office in the early 1980s, chairs a 17-member panel charged with finding a solution to the flag issue.

"My grandfather was in the Civil War as a member of the Confederate army," said Mr. Winter, who is 77. "I have grown up in that tradition, but I also recognize that we need to take a look at that flag and make sure it is truly representative of all the people of Mississippi today."

Not every school has responded favorably to the invitation to help: The Desoto County school board has barred students from the activity, for example.

But Mr. Winter said he hopes that the students' essays will produce "a better understanding on the part of all citizens of Mississippi of their history—and of their vision for the future."

—Alan Richard

Vol. 20, Issue 6, Page 19

Published in Print: October 11, 2000, as State Journal

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